by Deb Helfrich, DIrector of Wellness Research for Out-Thinking Parkinson's
This is my companion piece to Gary's article, which he introduces below. The two articles together form the prelude to our first book about our journey together and everything we learned along the way in OUT-THINKING PARKINSON'S: STARTING THE JOURNEY
Focusing on Wellness: Deb’s Prelude
August 2015-January 2016
"Deb entered my life in August 2015. This prelude, written by Deb, relates how she unlocked me during the subsequent half a year leading up to the launch of Out-Thinking Parkinson’s” ~ Gary Sharpe
Here is an interesting fact about Gary’s Prelude. Gary was never able to tell me about his diagnosis or past health history until he began to see that he had control over his life and the PD symptoms. He did talk about the thoracic outlet syndrome part of this story, but he just did not want to relive any small part of his PD diagnosis. This is true of a lot of us, we avoid what makes us uncomfortable until that avoidance actually becomes a key part of what ails us.
I have been able to make it to my mid-forties without sitting on the opposite side of a diagnosis desk. There is a whole lot of luck involved, but also a belief that I am in charge of my own life, health, and wellness. I have always paid attention to my body. I understood that body and mind are in a partnership that constantly needed to negotiate. I have always seen the signals of pain, tiredness, and wellbeing that my body gives me as an integral part of how I needed to plan my days and live my life.
Gary asked when and how did I get started in my interest in holistic wellness and I find that there really wasn't one instance in my life, it was somehow always my approach to my own health. But I do remember when the change occurred in the way I approached my dog's Veterinary care. Like most people, since we can't talk with our dog, we feel like they are a closed book, and we need the expert advice of someone with a degree to give them the best care. Once my dog had a bald patch. It had been getting worse for a few months. During a routine rabies re-vaccination, I asked the Vet for some advice.
She hadn't actually mentioned the bald patch herself, it wasn't a raging wound, but as soon as I asked, she launched into some pretty dire diagnoses including Cushing's Disease. When I said that I hadn't noticed any systematic changes, I thought it was an outside irritant, especially as we had been traveling quite a bit and in the timeframe of the bald patch advancing to a 2 inch diameter. We had come from Ohio to Oregon to San Francisco and finally settled in the Seattle area during the previous 4 months. She discounted that evidence and said it was prudent to do a full set of labs. I asked if there was anything topical we could try first. She stuck with the full panel of tests. I spent over $500.
When she called me, I could tell she was uncomfortable. She reported that not a single value was out of normal range, so good news. Nothing needed to be done and I could let her know if I needed anything else. Well, um, yes, I said – what do I do about the bald patch that made you decide we needed to check her blood and urine. My recollection is she said she really didn't know what to advise.
There I was. I had some unneeded stress that something was seriously wrong, I was out a rather large sum of money, considering nothing was wrong, and I received no actual practical steps for all that mental and financial investment. So I had to do my own research. I applied a bit of olive oil, and in a few days, her hair was growing back. At that point, I switched to holistic veterinary care and I can sincerely say that I find the partnership and the focus on good basic nutrition to be a breath of fresh air.
Here is the thing, I am not in any way critical of doctors and vets. But I do realize that they are trained to treat disease and acute trauma. At this point in time, they are generally lacking in knowledge about helping people with basic wellness strategies. When something goes terribly wrong, I swear by the medical professionals, but when it comes to the responsibility for my daily life, I take the lead, do the research, test the least drastic measures first, and share when a simple strategy actually produces results.
Over the years, I managed to help a lot of friends and their pets simply by listening, asking questions, and offering the possibility of simple solutions, when I thought I had some nugget of knowledge to offer. Of course, there were times when the answer was get to a doctor/vet, stat! But often, a change in a basic wellness parameter made a difference.
So I started to help Gary in the ways I know best. I began sharing a couple of really easy things that I knew made a difference. I knew the results in my own body and was certain that if they helped he would have less discomfort on top of the PD symptoms. He understood the logic of what I was suggesting – I try things based on my own common sense and research within a few trusted resources for wellness. He saw results. He was therefore reinforced to go on a journey with me.
Neither one of us had any background about PD when we started. He lived with it, and he had - for those first 6 years - no bandwidth for any curiosity. He didn't have the available energy to spend on understanding the landscape of his condition. He took the meds as the neurologist prescribed and lived with how his days unfolded.
As we started to become best friends, I purposely avoided learning anything about PD. I just wanted to become acquainted with him for who he was, how he was. As we got closer and decided to start a business together where we could leverage our well-balanced differences, there came a time when the effects of PD on our work routine could not be ignored. It turns out that I am a pretty routine-based person and I was struggling to learn how to use my own cycles of productive and not-so-productive time, when our periods of collaborating were so erratic. I accepted his irregularity, but we had reached a point where I needed to understand better, in order to counter my personal frustrations over always getting cut short due to a PD symptom.
In many ways, Gary is my teacher about how to learn how to accept what you cannot change. I knew I liked to take advantage of my own daily mental and physical rhythms, but I didn't realize how inflexible I had become in my own right. I still continue to have moments when his physical reality comes down on me like a ton of bricks and I have trouble adjusting out of whatever state I was in. But it was in coming into daily alignment with visual, irrefutable proof of how much body affects mind, and mind affects body in PD that I started to begin to ask questions. My goal was to try to make sure he wasn't losing any valuable microjoule of energy to any other physical problem on top of PD.